In college basketball, teams and players are measured by their success in March. This year, the men’s basketball squad forever cemented its legacy in the sport’s most exciting month by defeating Augustana College, 79-78, in Salem, Virginia, for the program’s first Division III national championship.
Under the guidance of Stephen Brennan, National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Division III Coach of the Year, the Beavers finished a program best 31-2 and captured Babson’s first NCAA team title since 1984. The championship was the culmination of four years of success for a program that won 103 games and made a pair of Final Four appearances.
But success in March hasn’t always been the norm. The Beavers made just five NCAA Tournament appearances prior to 2014, advancing as far as the Sweet 16 in 2002. “We’ve always had great people in the program, but our group over the past few years has been very centered on its work ethic and their ability to put the team first,” says Brennan. “After reaching the Final Four in 2015, the goal was always to get back to Salem and find a way to win.”
Despite entering the NCAA Tournament without two starters, the Beavers’ senior class and their trust in each other helped book a return trip to Salem. “We’re a really close-knit group that relied on each other throughout the year,” says Joey Flannery ’17, two-time NABC Division III Player of the Year. “We all had a ton of confidence in each other, and that closeness on the court allowed us to make the run.”
In the semifinals, the team defeated previously unbeaten and top-ranked Whitman College 91-85, despite trailing by 25 points with less than eight minutes to go in the first half. In the title game, the Beavers trailed by as many as 10 but worked their way back, with Flannery sealing the greatest win in program history with a blocked shot in the closing seconds. “It was an unreal finish to the game and the season,” says Flannery, who, despite ranking eighth in Division III all-time scoring with 2,620 points, may now be better known for “the block.”
After coaching for three decades, Brennan understands the significance of the team’s accomplishment. “The greatest gift, and it’s been going on since reaching the Final Four in 2015, is that we’ve been able to share our success with our alumni,” he says. “To become one of just 24 schools to win a Division III men’s basketball title is a major achievement.”—Jeremy Viens, athletics communications director